Thank you to all my readers for your supportive comments about my worst trip ever. It meant a great deal.
Nowadays I still have anxiety before travelling long-haul. But it is much better now that I don’t travel alone. My husband does everything, even carry all our luggage.
I also (as can be seen from the photo above) carry my passport/boarding pass/money/medicine in a small crossbody bag with a strap that cannot easily be cut. I also wear cheap travel jewellery and don’t have anything sentimental with me (which has been very difficult). I make photocopies of all travel documentation and secrete it in as many places as I can. I send my best friends on both sides of the world scans of my passport and other details. I don’t carry keys.
Ever since 2006 I do suffer from palpitations and breathlessness before long trips. I cannot control them because they come from somewhere deep inside me. I don’t even feel outwardly anxious when they happen. So I have learned to just ride them out. Take calming breaths, sit down if I am dizzy, drink some water. When I had my first panic attack in 2006, I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was a heart attack.
I have never felt – before or since – as I did when they confined me at passport control in Sweden. At that point, for the first time in my life, I just gave up. I was too exhausted to even try and explain my journey, or to try and fix things yet again. I understood at that point what unrelenting stress does to the body and the mind. I didn’t care what would happen to me. I was totally passive. I had nothing left to give. The well was dry. It took me a long time to recover from that.
A year later, my stepdaughter was arriving in Stockholm after two years at a Swedish school in Nairobi, Kenya. We went to the airport to welcome her home. I had no misgivings on the way, but when we got to the airport, I could not walk through the door. I started hyperventilating. It was the first time I realised how traumatising that awful was for me. When I managed to force myself into the airport I had another panic attack.
At that point I told my ex husband that I would never be able to travel again. He was great about it. He realised that not travelling would mean me literally never seeing my family again, because they would never ever travel to visit me. He had to work and was catsitting for us, but he booked tickets for me from Stockholm to South Africa via London, and for him from Stockholm to London. He then sat next to me all the way to London, as support and also to bring me home if I couldn’t manage it. When I got to London and felt okay, he flew back to Stockholm on the next flight. I would not have been able to do it without him.